U.S. Army rendering of a possible (tracked) Ground Combat Vehicle design
This early in its development, the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle is still much closer to being a grab bag of wants, needs, and concepts than it is to being an actual operational reality. The current schedule calls for 2-3 competitors to be chosen in late 2010 to fight it out for the right to design the vehicle, with an infantry carrier variant to be produced by Fiscal 2017. While the Army just issued its latest request for proposals late last week, Army brass has been dropping hints over the past several months that they might be leaning toward a tracked vehicle for the GCV design, as opposed to the wheeled MRAP, M-ATV and Stryker combat vehicles it has been buying over the last decade.
After delivering his remarks about Army modernization at a breakfast meeting in Virginia on Thursday morning—where the biscuits and gravy were, as always, superb—Lt. Gen. Robert Lennox from the Army’s G-8 department added more fuel to the fire, telling Ares during a question and answer session that the Army indeed seems to be leaning toward tracks.
Reflecting lessons learned from the Future Combat Systems fiasco, the GCV has no weight requirement—but it does have requirements for survivability and maneuverability. Back in March, an Army spokesman told me that the service wants the vehicle to have the “urban mobility of a Stryker, with the off-road capability of a Bradley and the survivability of an MRAP. The mobility requirements are as important as survivability, because you can’t make your battlefield commander’s movements predictable. You can’t limit his routes; you’ve got to be able to go in various terrain.”
Given all that, Lennox admitted that “as you start asking what you want the vehicle to do in terms of survivability, weight is a factor; [when it comes to] the number of people that it carries weight is a factor; do you want a turret on top, weight is a factor—and those kind of attributes drive you to I think a tracked vehicle.” He was quick to add that “none of this is preordained, so I don’t mean to say that if you come in with a different solution that it won’t be considered…but I think that’s the thought that it drives you to that kind of [tracked] solution.”
Lt. Gen. Michael Vane, director of the Army Capabilities Integration Center seemed to come to pretty much the same conclusion last October when we spoke about the GCV’s possible weight. He admitted that above a certain weight a vehicle’s mobility is hampered, and that “there will be a weight inflection point that will then require a tracked vehicle.” He suggested that there might be multiple variants of the GCV, and that “some could be tracked, some could be wheeled.”
The Army’s new appreciation for tracked vehicles likely stems from a combination of the need to replace its rapidly aging Bradley fleet and the harsh—and expensive—lessons currently being learned in the rugged, track-friendly terrain of Afghanistan. Our Canadian neighbors, who have learned their own Afghan lessons, seem to be coming to much the same conclusion as they undertake a $5 billion reset of its ground vehicle fleet. Reports have it that the government of Canada is taking a hard look at the tracked CV90 infantry carrier for its Close Combat Vehicle requirement, (Canada is planning on buying about 100 – 150 CCVs) and is watching closely how several European allies, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Switzerland, Holland and Denmark are employing the vehicle in Afghanistan.